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Grand Chamber of European Court of Human Rights reaffirmed self-governance of religious institutions; 47 Member States must respect church’s right to regulate its own affairs

Related Case: Nagy v. Hungary

STRASBOURG – On 14 September, the European Court of Human Rights confirmed church autonomy as a basic right deserving protection in its 47 Member States. In the case Nagy v. Hungary the Grand Chamber of the Court upheld the right of churches to “ecclesiastical courts and the discipline of ministers.” ADF International was the only organization to file an expert brief in this case, arguing that according to international law churches should be able to manage their internal affairs without interference by the government.

“ADF International intervened in this case to highlight the principle of church autonomy in handling internal disciplinary matters. International law and especially the European Convention on Human Rights protects this fundamental freedom. The state shall have no role in meddling with the internal governance of religious institutions,” said Paul Coleman, Deputy Director of ADF International.

The state has no place interfering in the relationship between a church and its leaders           

In 2009 Mr. Karoly Nagy filed an application with the ECHR complaining that the state courts refused to weigh in on a matter of internal church discipline. The dispute dates back to 2005, when an ecclesiastical court removed Mr. Nagy from his pastoral post following church disciplinary proceedings that had been brought against him. A second ecclesiastical court upheld this decision and dismissed Mr. Nagy’s appeal. The case went to the Hungarian Supreme Court, which refused to accept jurisdiction because ecclesiastical law was applicable in the case.

“This Grand Chamber judgment has confirmed the principle of church autonomy by dismissing a claim by a former pastor that he was entitled to use the state courts against a church when he was unhappy with the decisions of the internal ecclesiastical courts. This decision is welcome as it reinforces the rights of religious believers in all 47 member states of the Council of Europe to manage their own affairs without unwarranted external interference.” Coleman added.

Find the case note on the ruling of the Grand Chamber of the Court here.

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